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art therapy

Healing Lyme Disease with Art

When I was super sick, a couple of years ago, I had constant skin pain, the medical term for which is severe neuralgia. I'd never experienced such horrid, continuous sensations. If someone had handed me a gun, I might have shot myself. Fortunately, I didn't get my hands on a gun. I picked up a paint brush instead. I only had enough energy to paint for short durations of time. I chose a small project that took me about three nights to complete, and spent about a half an hour each night painting. During the brief time that I was actually painting, I became completely absorbed in my work. I concentrated fully on how the paint looked on the brush, watched it with wonder as it came slowly off the brush and onto the canvas, curving in direct response to my idea of a design. Astonished, each night I would experience the pain returning as I put away my paints and cleaned the brushes. What was going on?

I called an artist friend, and she corroborated my suspicion. Art, or to be specific, any creative act, heals. Those few precious pain-free moments saved me. Eventually, the moments stretched out and now I live without pain. Looking back, I recognize that the full-on concentration I poured into that small art project created a break in the pattern of stress and pain that had become part of my moment-to-moment experience of living.

Stress is a big challenge when you're healing any serious or chronic disease, and Lyme patients must learn strategies for coping with it in a positive way. It's not as if stress is going to go away -- as everyone knows, it's a natural part of living. Out of despair at the realization that he could not heal me, and that he must accept the fact that I had to heal myself, my partner brought home paints and paintbrushes. I have a background in art, and yet until it was a life or death situation, I had no clue how the practice of painting -- of focusing on one simple creative act -- could help me begin to heal. So how do you deal with it?

One smart way to get a handle on stress is to cultivate a regular meditation practice. Sitting down, calming your mind, and focusing on your breath is something you can (usually) handle even when you're sick. It is a challenge to meditate when you're scared, or in pain, or when a coherent thought can't easily navigate your brain fog. But meditation needn't be long or grueling. Shoot for short sessions. Even sitting and clearing your mind for one minute is helpful, if that's all you can muster. Try going for five minutes next time, fifteen the next. One or two times a day has been proven to help the mind to learn more quickly, and integrate new information more efficiently. You don't have to follow any specific format in order to benefit from meditation practice. You can paint, like I did. Some people merely focus on their breath moving in and out. When the mind wanders, as minds will do, simply become aware of this fact and gently bring the focus back to the breath. This type of focus can't be underrated in terms of helping you get off of the pain train, even momentarily.
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